People with more education in all 50 states appear overall to be healthier than people with less education, according to a new report released today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commissions to Build a Healthier America.
The findings add to the "growing body of evidence that there's much more to health than healthcare," says Paula Braverman, co-author of the study, Reaching America's Health Potential: A State-by-State Look at Adult Health, and director of the University of California at San Francisco's Center on Social Disparities in Health.
"Medical care is clearly important, but education, along with income and other factors outside the healthcare system, exert a powerful influence on how well we live," Braverman said.
Almost half of all surveyed adults, ranging in ages from 25 to 74, reported being in less than very good health—and that rate "differed depending on level of education," Braverman says.
For example, adults who did not graduate from high school were more than 2.5 times as likely to be in less than very good health than college graduates. Even those who had graduated from high school, but had not gone to college, were nearly twice as likely to be in less than very good health as college graduates.
The health gaps related to education can be observed within states. For instance, in Mississippi, nearly three-quarters of adults who had not graduated from high school reported being in less than very good health, compared with 37% of college graduates. In Vermont, which fared the best in overall health of adults, 68% of adults who had not finished high school said they were in less than very good health compared with 22% of college graduates.
In the data reviewed by researchers, adults who reported being in poor, fair, or even good health had rates of diabetes and heart disease that were more than five times as high as the rates for adults in very good or excellent health, says Sue Egeter, a study co-author and co-director at the University of California at San Francisco's Center on Social Disparities in Health. "That's a huge difference in risk for two very serious health conditions."
Racial and ethnic minorities were more likely to report being in less than very good health. However, differences in health status by education level were still seen within every racial or ethnic group. Nationwide, for example, 44% of African-American college graduates said they were in less than very good health compared to 55% of those with some college, 62% of high school graduates, and 73% of those who had not completed high school.